Friday, September 8, 2017

Still finishing moving


So it's still about storage and moving and all that stuff that I hate. But I am going to a new place and look forward to it.

Until then I am heading towards the new place and hopefully get back to work by the end of next week.

Hang on to How to Make a movie a cult following. 

 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Moving





Sorry for the delay, I'm in the middle of moving, or as I see it, "Hell!!" It is not fun, trying to sell off some stuff and just trying to not go crazy. I should be wrapped up, traveling and hopefully settled. Sorry for the wait, I'll drop lines now and then.

This is what it started like.... 

 

Monday, August 21, 2017

More


Okay, end of the Heaven and Hell story. I'm actually going back there in the next month to visit and hang out with some of the friends I made on the show. I'm also working on some of my book on screenwriting as I will be working online for another gig. 

Thanks for reading the blog, it's actually now nearing 10 years of my blog, amazing! I'm considering my own online screenwriting instruction. As some of you know I have taught screenwriting way back at the University of Los Angeles, (UCLA) one of the best screenwriting teaching courses in the world. 

Should have a new story asap.

Hang on.

Friday, August 18, 2017

H&H Part 23 - the end is near



 
They are well into the filming of my episode. The director meets me and says he's filming the scene as I had originally written it rather than the Kaplan/Mahon version. What's interesting here is that a director rarely goes over the heads of the producers but in this instance he did.

He also had the 1st AD talk to Mahon to keep her away from the actors and the scene itself. As the AD talks to her, she notices me but doesn't say anything. I figure I won't either. Let it go. The scene is finished and Mahon approaches the director and asks how it's going. He replies simply, "good." She leaves and he gives me a nod.

You would rarely see this on a series, I've seen it a couple of times on other shows. And while it shows the director's confidence as well as the actor's, it's also because they have spent time on the script with me or the other writers, including Rino and Jonathan who have experienced similar moments.

Believe it or not.




And my time is almost over. They are filming my first script and the second one will be filmed in September for which I probably won't be asked back since I had done all the necessary rewrites for it.

I decide to leave a week early as all the scripts are pretty much done and there's nothing left to do. Rino also is leaving at the end of the week. In 2 weeks, everyone will be gone and Jackson will be a tourist town again.

I take a day or two to say goodbye to the locals, Louise and the Greeks and even the stalker whom I meet one day on the street. He didn't seem to know who I was. I also visit the set and see the crew who worked tirelessly on this show and had some idea of the infighting between the writers and producers, but never really bothered us. Erica is there and says she'll see me at the bar and gives me a hug. Hugs are big on film crews.

I wasn't sure how I'd spend my last evening and figured it would end at the bar with the above-the-line crew as we all did for the last several months. But when I get to my hotel there's a message.

An invitation to dinner with three, count them, three of the most interesting women on the show. The two sisters, Marilyn and Lauren and Carrie, who scanned her face on paper and gave me a copy. What more could any guy ask for?

Naturally I figure someone else must have turned them down but I don't hesitate in answering YES!!

I rush through the bar, saying goodbyes. Karen the accountant says she'd miss my jokes, and we all promise to keep in touch even though most of the time it never happens. But in this case, I still do keep in touch with many of them. I see Jorn and ask him to come with me, he doesn't have to think twice.

Upon arriving at the restaurant just outside of town limits, I am in for another surprise. There, in the dim light and flickering candles, I realize there's something different about these three women,

No hiking boots and parkas and down vests.

Instead, they're all wearing light summer-type dresses, with hair done up and looking like three amazing Eliza Doolittles. The rest of the dinner is a soft blur, the five of us talk initially about the show, but then about things everybody talks about, life, hope, future. It's one of those moments you want to go on forever.

But like moments, they are soon gone as Marilyn's smiling candle-lit face dissolves into raindrops hitting against my windshield as I drive down the main street in early morning. The street is empty, I pass by the bars and cafes and shops that were part of my life for the last several months, snow had come and gone, leaves were on the trees and a few deer families took shelter under them. Resting in the cupholder is my last hot coffee from Louise, the coffee shop owner who said goodbye to me minutes ago.

I think of how small things can change a mood, a dinner, a sunny day, even rain falling. And it's then that a moment happens, one of those moments where you feel so good that even if you had to die that moment, you would still be happy. That moment came to me now.

It was not an easy show, I'd like to think that it was an anomoly, an abberation of how TV series should work. But I hear war stories from others in the following years that suggests it can  happen again.

When movies began in the late 1800's, a French theater critic was known to have said of them, "now there is an art form for the masses." Up till then art was for the wealthy and the aristocracy but movies, for a few pennies, gave ordinary people a glance into life they never had before.

I like writing stories and continue to do so and feel lucky I still can. As I write this my attorney is negotiating a sale for a Christmas screenplay. It's called The Town That Forgot Christmas. It's bad luck to go this far in mentioning a script sale, but if it doesn't there will be others.


 
And what was that moment I described earlier?

A black bear stood at the edge of the highway as I approached in my SUV. This was just outside the town limits. He was on two legs, sniffing and watching and at the last moment, darted off into the trees.

I stopped and reached for my camera. He stood within the tall pines for another moment and watched me. Then with a seemingly bored look, he dropped to all fours and slowly waddled off into the deep forest.

Probably thinking; "some writer, he never even considered a bear episode".

Epilogue: I still keep in contact with Karen the accountant, Jorn the Cameraman, Dan the Production Designer, Ray the locations person, and a few others. I still talk to Marilyn whenever we're in the same place, and Lauren just a month ago. All are doing well. Rino has passed away.


Only the deer send me off this morning. And yes, I did see Erica before I left.



 

Monday, August 14, 2017

H&H Part 22 - My show



 
 One of the actors playing a Park Ranger, nice guy and easy to work with. The old guy is me.

The time has finally come when my first episode will be shot. It's one of the two scripts I was given to write besides all the rewrite work on other people's scripts. The second of my scripts will be written later.

Kaplan offers some notes of which some are good. After he leaves, the director of this episode drops by to discuss his notes. He has several comments, all of which are not difficult to make. Many directors, especially TV directors don't like to have writers around as the old joke suggests "because we're the only ones who know they're faking it."

At the very basic level, every script belongs to the writer. In fact European countries only accept the writer as the owner of the story and script. Sure, the director brings it to life, but a script can stand on it's own as reading material, regardless if it's made or not.

But this director is very generous and ready to work with me. He has read the first draft and asks why a new scene was added, a "drug deal" with the dying man and his partner. He asks why I changed it to something stereotypical and not as good as my original script.

I tell him in two words:  Kaplan and Mahon, the producers. They thought it would add some edge to the story, I said it made no sense. Why did I change it?

You have a lot to take into consideration when making changes; a responsibility to the show and the actors. On the other hand, if you cross the producers (in this case, Kaplan and Mahon), you can get a bad rap for being "difficult to work with" throughout the industry.

And there's usually two reasons why someone can't get work in this business; either they're not very good or they're hard to work with.

And after a week of them keeping after me to make the changes, I did. But I also knew that the director, if he was good, would notice the changes and I know the actors would immediately.

This director said he would try to get the original script back. But I doubted it would happen.

Next came the actors.

They dropped by separately, as is the custom, nobody wants to share the script with another actor. Gunther, who was saved with me by Erica at the bar, complains about the "drug deal" scene in the new script. I tell him why I changed it and he shakes his head and says "they don't know shit."

After him, Franz, the actor playing opposite him comes in and says "I  noticed some changes". I tell him about Kaplan and Mahon's dumb ideas and he sides with me, the director and Gunther. So far 4 against 2.

Finally Erica comes into the office, grabs me by the  hand and takes me out onto the little ground-level balcony our office has. She says her character should have some faults and not be so perfect. Exactly the opposite of what her German producer wanted, which was having characters with no problems and riding horses in the mountains.

By now you must be getting an idea of the frustration of working with not very smart producers. Neither Kaplan or Mahon were "smarties" as Mel Brooks would say, instead they did more to harm the writing on the show than help it

Actors, especially star actors, like "the big speech". This is where they get to show how dramatic they can be. Think of Al Pacino in Scene of a Lady, or Denzel Washington in Training Day. Those scenes that win awards for actors.

I had written a scene like that for an episode, but it wasn't for Erica, it was for the supporting actor. The scene was about a wife's reaction to her husband's death was not sorrow but anger at him for betraying her. It was a good scene because it did the opposite of what the audience expected. Writers love to write this kind of scene but don't always have the right story. 

Erica wanted a scene like that. 

And since she wasn't in the new "drug scene", she really didn't care about it. This was all about her. It wasn't a hard thing to change so I said I would do it.

That evening the film crew had a baseball game with the rangers and local police and they beat us by ten runs. It was a relaxing moment, even with Kaplan there. Everyone was enjoying themselves, Lauren was adapting well to her new position as Art Director, Jorn the cameraman was looking forward to returning to his family after the show wrapped. And I attempted again to talk to Marilyn but stumbled on every sentence.

As I drive a police officer home he suggests we "buzz" a fellow officer who's on radar patrol but I decline, not wanting to get a speeding ticket as well as the impact of a few beers I had at the bbq after the game.

The next day they began filming my episode and I come to the set and meet the director, who's decided to shoot my original version " F..k them", he adds.

I can't really disagre






(Fri:  Mahon & I face off)


Friday, August 11, 2017

H&H Part 21: Hollywood Donuts


As usual, I end up at a farewell party at the bar for Dan Cooper, the production designer who's off to do two western movies, and he's not all that unhappy to be leaving our troubled show. He leaves Lauren in charge and when I act surprised she glares at me, I realize that the  woman doing a man's job issue has been misunderstood and I attempt an awkward back step. I've never thought that and have always respected women filmmakers and in some instances mentored them.

But later, Lauren and her sister Marilyn pass me little notes, letters from Finbar the stalker that they've written, laughing as I read them. They sit across from each other between men who do their best to impress the two sisters. For awhile I watch the dance that occurs between them and the men, and I realize I'm in writer mode now, studying people and what they do. They laugh at jokes, smile, nod and generally capture the hearts.

For me it's welcomed, not having to deal with Kaplan and Jonathan and Mahon and Hilda the German money.

Erica is there, getting attention from the men that are too far from the sisters. Raoul, one of the actors shouts at me to write a scene for him so I grab crayon and paper on the table and write a simple first-grade level page of a screenplay.

Someone jokes that it's a Kaplan script who left early after giving a farewell speech to Dan's leaving. I think Kaplan knows how much he's disliked. The crayon script makes its rounds, everybody adding a line and I can't help notice how good everybody feels, made better by knowing that the show is rolling towards the last episodes and soon it will be over.

Then Erica grabs my arm and says she wants to look at the moon over the river. Now you have to remember Erica was one of my fantasy loves as a teenager and now she asks me to go and look at the moon.

Do I need to say how I feel?

Died and gone to heaven.

The moon is indeed over the valley and it's almost like a Hollywood scene. We sit on a bench and talk; the show, the mountains, Germany, the Rocky Mountains, I learn more about her life, how she as a young girl remembered powdered milk after the war ended in Germany and how some Hollywood types referred to her as a Nazi. It was a long hard road to her success and I realize she has earned it.

Then I pitch her my plan. It had come up weeks before and lurked in my mind for days now. I had the perfect business plan.

Hollywood Donuts. 

I had noticed that there were no donut shops in Jackson. There was HavaJava but that was closed early. And a donut shop is different anyway. There were truckers passing through the town all night, heading for distant cities.

Erica didn't know what a donut was but influenced by the drinks she had, she came up with a name. 

Hollywood Donuts.

And our slogan would be "Hollywood Donuts Are Forever".

I didn't know what it meant, but it sounded good. We now knew enough locals to be able to finance Hollywood Donuts and it would feature the Erica combo, coffee and Black Forest Cake. Not officially a donut but it would be the signature treat.

But the night is just beginning.

At 11:30 Erica wants to dance so we leave the movie scene I created in my mind and head tot the often wild hotel bar downtown. There she succeeds in dragging me onto the dance floor and proceeds to show her stuff. For me, it's totally embarrassing and I do everything I try to get off the floor. She ends the dance by jumping on me and the crowd roars.

What happens next that is both scary and amazing.

I join Gunther, a German actor who was flown here to play the part of the dying man in the script I wrote. Gunther and I get along well and he says, of Erica; "she has a lot of energy".

Then I notice that three mountain types approach us. One is bearded, heavy set, no necks and obviously tough. His two buddies are pretty much the same, less the beards. Beard stands about a foot in front of me and says...

"So that's the movie star."

I nod. Then he throws his cigarette, it hits my chest and bounces off. Gunther steps closer to me. Beard then says "you movie people, you really think you're something". I say "not really". He stares blankly at me.

"They don't like Germans", Gunther says and I add, "And they don't like me." I lean into Gunther and say that if they swing at us we have to hit the one closest to us and then head for the door. It's suddenly become a western cowboy showdown. And Gunther and I are really not fighters.

The big guys move in and just as they step ahead... Erica literally flows in between us and the mountain men and says something that sounds like "you look very strong" at Beard who stops, momentarily dazed. They are completely stunned, and I'm not sure if it was her sudden appearance, or them realizing they are looking face-to-face with a real movie star, but she has them in her hands...

... at least for a few more seconds.

In which she grabs my hand, twirls like a ballerina and drags Gunther and I away as smooth as a good bourbon. The next thing we know, we're outside. Once we get into my SUV and drive away, all three of us laugh. Safe and sound, thanks to a movie star.

Erica nods, says "sometimes it works, sometime it doesn't".


(Wed: My episode is filmed)

Monday, August 7, 2017

H&H Part 20: Secret Lives of townspeople






Okay, so I'm being a little dramatic but nothing much in the writing and fighting department so I'm going to catch up on the local gossip in Jackson. The pic is at a really hotel where secrets often are shared. I shared some.

I've mentioned Louise, the coffee house owner previously. Louise had invited me to a house party, one of 2 of our film crew to be invited, so I felt it would be to go. She has one of those houses built in the 1940's and now made more open and modern. The crowd is locals, mostly store owners like her and a few others.

Louise slides through the large living room, making sure everyone is happy. I sit at a wet bar across from a man who is mostly silent. Louise hugs me, gives me a drink and the man glares at me. Ray, the location manager of the series and the other one invited, tells me that the staring man is Louise's ex-husband, another Greek restaurant owner.

It turns out this is/was his house and Louise got it as a settlement. And to make it more interesting, Ray thinks Louise is flirting with me to push her ex's buttons. Not really what I need at this point, being worried enough about my stalker and even my job.

Ray adds that Louise has had plenty of affairs in town, which she later confirms, saying "yeah, they like to talk about me in town". I stay for another hour and then leave, walking back to my hotel. Spring is here now and the evenings are cool but bearable without a parka.

At the hotel the night clerk talks to me a little and I mention Ari the Greek. The night clerk is a tall, gangly man who has dark eyes that seem to be watching you. He says he knows lots about Ari and the other Greeks in town and tells me that Ari's restaurants have burned down three times under mysterious circumstances and that everyone in town knows and someday the "authorities" will know.

I see myself entering conspiracy world so I attempt to leave when night clerk asks if I'd like to see the video tapes he has of the fires. I politely decline, and go to my room. I hear the night clerk laughing and talking to himself. I make sure my door is double locked.

A few days later I learn that the night clerk was fired from Ari's restaurant and ordered by the court to keep away from the place. I also learn that Ari beat his wife some time ago and spent some time in jail.

Then we learn that Ari recently fired a waitress we all liked because she refused to serve liquor to customers after hours, which would be illegal. The TV crew is quite upset and draft a letter to Ari saying we won't frequent his place unless she's hired back.

The town is full of characters; one of them, Big Ed writes the horoscope for a local free paper and admits he makes them up. He says he even created a new sign, Saturn, whose predictions are always good. "Makes people happier," he adds.

Many of us find a new bar after the waitress firing incident and Ari's place is less busy, although now more tourists are beginning to come back to Jackson after the long, hard winter.


(Wed: The first completed episode is awful)

Friday, August 4, 2017

H&H Part 19: Bad to Worse




  Sorry for the delay, I was running around town and spent more time in traffic than any human wants to be.

Summer is now just around the corner, more tourists, less parkas. In the writer's room we get a call from the network in the east that the first episode does not look good. Everything I suspected (or knew) was correct. The first few scripts were fixed as much as possible but you can't make a good script out of a bad one. No matter how hard you try.

You can make it better, but not much. At least it wasn't mine. But we also have someone new to deal with.

Hilda.

Hilda is representing the German partners in this series, that's why we have Erica here and also a few other German actors. All of whom are very good and easy to work with.

Hilda is a different story.

True to stereotype, Hilda is a tough, stocky woman who orders rather than asks or requests. She is Littman's opposite and is here to exercise power for the European partner. I am introduced and then leave for lunch.

On the way to the Java place that Louise runs, I meet Mindy, the young actress who's a regular on the show. While no Meryl Streep, she does okay for the role. She walks up to me, holding a script, which, as it turns out was my episode, the one that I wrote about the German tourist who was dying and came to the mountains to end his life.

There are two subplots; one deals with Mindy's romantic dinner with the police chief and another subplot involving a stripper, which Kaplan insisted I put into the story against my objections.

Mindy had read the script and was all smiles. Then she gave me probably one of the best compliments I've ever had on a script.

"It's so Jim."

That was all. But coming from her it made me feel that my efforts to write good, solid drama and some comedy was working. And no matter what anyone else said, it didn't really matter.

And others would say not so kind things.

Hilda questioned the entire series, she wants more "family entertainment." Then she adds "why do all the characters have so many problems, why can't they just be happy and ride on horses and "lets not have so many people in bed, my goodness" (yes she did say that).

I do agree with the bed-hopping the characters do, not because it's racy, but because it's poorly done. Like most of the scripts we're forced to redo. It's clear now that Rino and I are the best writers here. Jonathan, who rarely leaves his condo can do good work, but he seems disillusioned now. And Kaplan, who initiated the sexy scenes, now looks uncomfortable.

Then we get to my script. The one Mindy likes and the other actors like.

"Ah, yes, Mark's (Littman the network guy) favorite script."

Kaplan bites his lip and Jonathan looks angry. But before they can say anything Hilda launches into my script full ahead. She rips almost every scene saying she wants happier characters.

And she doesn't like the stripper story, which I didn't like either. Kaplan forced it on me. But to Hilda it's even worse as she says about the stripper; "It's disgustiing, I mean, I know they have to feed their children but let's cut most of that character out."

Well at least she didn't want us to kill the stripper off.

Kaplan turns traitor again and goes along with Hilda's comments, which Rino and I know are mostly incompetent and useless. They both insist I make some major changes and I have 24 hours to do it as the episode begins shooting in one day.

This has put me between four sides; Kaplan, Hilda, Jonathan and Littman a thousand miles away.

Ah, the writer's life.

Monday, July 31, 2017

H&H Part 18 - The Stalker


After Easter break the crew reassembled back in Jackson. I spent time with friends in Calgary. Kaplan was still back east. I end up at Ari the Greek's with Jorn the cameraman and Ari introduces us to a Polish man who made a fortune in peat moss from the Canadian north. Show-runner Jonathan is there and he seems happier than before. Rino, the other writer seems to be aloof now, and I suspect something is up.

All in all, it's good to be back in Jackson, Louise at Hava Java welcomes me with a quesadilla she's learned to make and a hot coffee. The locals at the bar are happy to see us back. And I missed life in a small town.

But nothing has prepared me for Finbar Riley.

It began when I walked downtown to pick up my copy of the LA Times. I passed two locals talking to each other and noticed that one of them, a short, thin man, seemed to take interest in me. He immediately stopped talking to the other man and instead followed me.

Having lived around Detroit for many years, my street sense is pretty acute and I knew within a few seconds, that he was following me. I entered the magazine store and turned to see him walk up to the door, stop, then step back a few feet and pace back and forth.

I got my paper, saw him outside and left the store and walked away. He walked right behind me, maybe 10 feet or less. Finally I stopped, turned around and confronted him.

"Are you following me?" I said.

Since I'm over 6 feet, the man looked up at me with cold eyes and said this;

"Tell the big boys Pablo's back in town".

Honest to God. That's what he said. What he meant I had no idea of, nor would I ever. But one thing for sure. He meant them.

Most friends of mine will testify I attract weird people. I don't know why, maybe, as a writer, I'm just curious and it seems to come out. I pay attention to people also and that may be a factor. But right now I had no idea what this man was talking about.

I continued walking back the seven or so blocks to the office. And the little man was about a quarter of a block behind me. Finally I reached Louise's coffee house and turned inside. I tell her someone's following me. She looks out the window, and sure enough he's standing there waiting for me to come out.

"Oh, that's Finbar Riley", she laughed. I'm a little relieved as she says he's a local businessman and quite harmless. I tell her he's following me and Pablo. She has no idea what that means, that's just Finbar. Then she invites me to a party at her house later that evening.

By this time Finbar is gone. I step outside, like a kid hiding from a bully and walk back to the office where I tell the story. Everyone laughs and thinks it's great, usually it's the actresses who get stalkers. Yet I see headlines in the weekly paper: 

"Writer gunned down on Main Street by Finbar Riley." 

Someone suggests I go to the local police. I decide to do that just in case Finbar's behaving a little odd and has decided on some action to a stranger. I go to the Royal Canadian Police Department and tell a civilian secretary. Not missing a beat, she says...

"You'll want to talk to Officer Dave". 

Officer Dave sits in a small crowded office with his foot in a cast, a little soccer game that got a little out of hand, he laughs. He asks how the TV show is going and is happy to be a police advisor if I want.

I then tell him about Finbar and Officer Dave's smile fades a little. Dave tells me Finbar was a train conductor who somehow married above his station, a woman who comes from a wealthy local family. But after a few years, she got tired of him and is now in the process of dumping Finbar.

To make it even worse, she is carrying on a very open affair with a local divorced man called Mark Roberts. And since it's a small town, Finbar is not only angry but humiliated. 

So where does good old Jim come in? 

Officer Dave continues; Finbar has already threatened Roberts three times and assaulted him on the street once. The police have booked him, fingerprints and all. Dave says they really don't perceive him as a threat but they don't discount it either. He appreciates me telling him about my incident and adds that Finbar is an alcoholic as well. 

But why me? I ask.

Officer Dave doesn't know, but maybe he thought I was Roberts because I look a little like the man who's stealing his wife. He adds that Finbar will probably forget about the whole thing by tomorrow, but if I want, one of the officers will drop by and remind him to not go threatening anyone in town. 

"So who's Pablo". 

Office Dave says he has no idea. I leave a little better, but again, visions of headlines like "he was so harmless", "never hurt a fly" spin in my head. Back at the office, the story has spread like fire and the lovely Marilyn coasts by and smiles her lovely smile, "hear ya got a stalker Jim", she says.

Now I feel like a real idiot. Why couldn't the stalker be Marilyn?

The pay-off comes later at Ari's bar when I explain the story to him. He points at a man standing at the bar nearby. "That's Mark Roberts." He could resemble me in some ways and wears an anarak coat the same color as mine. I wonder if I should introduce myself; "Hey Mark, I hear you're bedding Finbar's wife".

But I decide to leave it alone. And besides Erica the star has entered and demands attention.

I never do see Finbar again, but I heard a few years later that a train ran over his foot.

When it rains it pours.

(Fri: The Party and Ari's past)

Friday, July 28, 2017

H&H Part 17 - A new player



I've made a ritual out of going to a little coffee place on Sunday mornings for breakfast. The cottage was built in 1918 and has been turned into "Hava Java" serving expresso and lattes to the tourist trade and an increasing local clientele.

Louise, the woman who owns it, is a dark-haired French Canadian who's friendly and also fills me in on the local gossip. This will lead to some interesting situations in the next week.

I show her how to make breakfast burritos like they do in little Mexican cafes in L.A. and she adds it to her menu. But right now there's the scent of slightly burnt biscuits and hot coffee and the world of television has been put on hold for one day.

Later my actor friend Paul and Loreen the production coordinator and Simone, a local P.A. drive up to Crystal Lake which is higher up and still covered with snow. Up there there's still 5 or 6 feet of snow and we struggle to get to the lake itself. Loreen manages to fall backwards, leaving a perfect snow angel in the deep snow.


I realize that I do enjoy this valley and it's people, probably because I grew up in a small town of only 500 residents. It seems like a million miles from Los Angeles and the deals and winners and losers. Up here it doesn't seem all that important what LA does. Life isn't all that hard in heaven.

But it's a little harder in hell. And that begins tomorrow.

Monday begins with a wake-up call from Marilyn, the sister who totally intimidates me just by saying "good morning, Jim". Turns out the power was off in the hotel last night and she is making calls to the cast and crew. I remind her that writers don't have to be anywhere until 9am at the earliest to which she replies, "If I had to get up, so do you." Why do women sound so incredibly great the first thing in the morning?

My smile turns to a frown when I get a call from the IRS who remind me I owe them taxes. So much for that property I wanted in Flagstaff.

Today, there's a new director coming and I have worked with him in the past, only he was acting in a series then. Morty Stuart is one of those great American character actors, his credits go back to the early 60's and played in a favorite film of mine, Kelly's Heroes, opposite Clint Eastwood.

Morty's a Texas native but has traveled the world and made more movies than anyone I've ever met. He's also translated his acting work to directing, something not uncommon for many actors. Morty's also got  a good b.s. detector and I'm glad to see someone on my side of the fence.

His first indication of the way things are is when we spend 30 minutes in the production meeting deciding if a kitchen scene should be day or night. Rino and I have to resist Kaplan's opinion and Morty finally sides with us. Jonathan has shown up, as has Mahon as Morty is the biggest star we have here, even though he's directing.

The rest of the day is quiet, one episode is being filmed and the next one, Morty's job, will start in a few days. The evening again ends at the bar where they set the tables up for us. Some of the locals don't like the attention we're getting but most of them are still excited about a series being made in Jackson.

And we're pretty open with the locals, often inviting them to sit with us and have a beer. I meet several people with whom I'm still friends to this day. Lauren, the serious sister sits on one side of me while Marilyn sits between two men who seem more interested in each other than her. Not that it's a bad thing.

Lauren has heard I tell good jokes so she asks me to tell her a joke. This is not always the easiest thing, to suddenly "be funny". I struggle to find something appropriate and have minor successes.

For the most part, drinking seems to be the big thing, drinking beer rather than wine or liquor unless it's for dinner. The bar is always lively and the TV shows hockey games. There are drugs in town, as the police tell me later,  a lot of marijuana and cocaine. So far very little Meth.

And some of the crew indulge in that, a practice that goes back to the early 1900's when movie studios in California would go on location. They would hire circus movers who knew how to set up a set, pull it down and drive overnight to the next location. They used bennies mostly, uppers, as that's the only way they could stay up for such long hours.

And the movie industry grabbed onto it, going from laborers to crew and then to the cast. Since writers are in an odd zone between both sides, we rarely get involved in any of that. It's very rare for a writer going to re-hab?

Rino and I decide to walk to the Springwater hotel downtown where live music is playing and more of a local crowd. On the way there, Ari the Greek drives by, stops and drives us to the bar. Again I feel the comfort of a small town and people who know you.

We enter the Springwater and see our young actress, Mindy, in the Dead Animal room, so called because of a dozen or more stuffed moose, elk, deer and bear heads lining the wall. She's talking to a good-looking Search and Rescue guy who is just happier than hell getting this attention from a real actress.

The evening ends with me walking back to my hotel and I notice a ring around the moon. This is sometimes called a Hunter's moon and usually means cold weather. It also means that the week-end is over and work begins again tomorrow.


(Wed: Jim gets a stalker)

Monday, July 24, 2017

H&H Part 16 - Dancing with Elk and Greeks




One of the interesting aspects of working in the Rockies are the somewhat "wild" animals that walk nonchalantly along sidewalks downtown or in backyards. They are mostly deer and very little threat, if any.

Bears are rarely seen in the park and hardly ever seen within town limits, where they obviously become potential problems. The black bears are dangerous but the grizzly is most dangerous. I have seen only one black bear since I arrived and he was a few miles outside of town crossing the highway.

Elk, on the other hand are not really dangerous as they wander mostly in open park areas or around the edge of town and on the highways. I once saw an elk get hit by a transport truck and it was not a pretty sight, the elk had broken legs and couldn't stand up. Eventually they are shot by rangers. Unfortunately elk and other animals are frequently hit by speeding cars and trucks.

Here in Jackson, the elk are not really any threat at all. Except for spring time when the males begin to look for love. And any other elk in the same area is considered a threat to the male's territory and selection of mates.

And apparently they don't really discern between another male elk or a human being.

Two of the crew have already been chased by a male elk, trumpeting his love call or ready to stomp on the intruder. In spring they don't have antlers, those were lost in the fall but they still weigh about 600 lbs and can crush a human fairly well.

I say this because this is the morning I walk/run with Erica, the movie star. Sure enough she is there, ready to go, sun is not even over the eastern mountain range yet. I put on a good show as the marches up the road to the outskirts of town. Considering the steep road and the high altitude, I do reasonably well keeping up to her.

Then an elk appears. Male. Sniffing. Their eyes aren't all that good and from 50 feet away I look like trouble to him. Erica doesn't even bother stopping, marching straight ahead. The elk snuffs and paws, a sure sign he will attack.

Then Erica shouts at him, telling him to go away. She picks up some stones and tosses them at the elk who looks completely confused. I join the shouting and eventually he decides we are no threat at all and he leaves.

I decide not to hike with Erica anymore. Not only because of elk threats but also because I can't keep up with her. At an alleged 59 years, she is doing just fine.

The rest of the day is spent on rewrites of new scripts and starting my own script which will be one of the last ones filmed. By day's end I join Rino, the other writer and go to the Rocky Mountain Lodge, the most expensive and posh lodge in the entire area. Celebrities from the 1950's used to stay here, people like Bing Crosby and even Marilyn Monroe. It's definitely a 4-star tourist resort but tonight the bar has around 5 customers listening to a local band.

We head back to the Peak where the crew hangs out and where Erica has a handful of listeners as she tells stories of her encounters with movie stars as famous as she was. Jonathan is nowhere in sight. The bar is now accustomed to us and they pull together as many tables as we need, mostly for above the line people and maybe a few selected below-the-liners, whom the creative types allow within their circle.

I always fit on either side and managed to stay level-headed, but some people get carried away with perceived power. Like Kaplan, but fortunately he rarely comes here because I think he knows nobody likes him.

A bar patron wants to meet Erica and the manager brings her over. Erica plays the movie star part well, smiling and genuinely listening and talking to the woman. The woman, it turns out, is the girlfriend of Ari, the owner of the bar and she speaks Greek and Swahili as well.

Like many small resort towns, a lot of the food businesses in Jackson are owned by Greeks. Ari is an interesting case himself. He jumped ship twenty-four years ago in Chicago and never looked back. He worked hard and now owns two places in Jackson. And he seems to like us and our lifestyle, not to mention the money he's making in a quite winter.

Ari buys drinks regularly for us and in moments of introspection tells us of his life and tragedies. It seemed his son died in a car accident and is buried in the small cemetery outside of Jackson. In the weeks that follow, I will learn that not all is well at Ari's, but for tonight I pass on the fifth Ouzo shot and head home. The clock reads 2am.

Tomorrow is Sunday and a day of rest.


(Mon: A New player comes to town)

Monday, July 17, 2017

H&H Part 15 - Kaplan vs everyone






Producer Kaplan has decided that Jonathan and I rework Jonathan's wife's outline. The one that everyone from the network on down hates - except for Jonathan who will not or cannot admit his wife wrote a lame story for a quick buck.

This is because no matter what she writes, how bad it will be, she will get paid the script fee and then it goes to either me or Rino or both of us to rewrite it into a reasonably okay story. That's the unsung job of the story editor.

Right now I'm getting nowhere with both Kaplan and Jonathan and tension is high. Then Rino comes in and offers a few ideas that sound good to me but of course, not to Jonathan and Kaplan who then disagree with each other. Finally this wasteful tug-of-war continues for an hour until, not having any ideas that work, they give in to Rino and me.

And remember, this isn't a huge victory, all we accomplished is having to push up a bad story into something not quite as bad.

 Then Mahon the other producer, the one who is usually playing computer games, bursts into the office and demands that we "get the f..king scripts to the departments". This is in reference to the fact that the scripts are behind due to Jonathan's absence and indecisions and Kaplan's inexperience. Left alone Rino and I could have the scripts out on time.

Mahon tears into Kaplan, who's clearly embarrassed as this middle-aged woman is ripping into him. Finally it ends when Kaplan says "the scripts will be there when they're ready." Mahon storms out as she can't threaten much more.

A production assistant steps inside, wary of the shouting match that just occurred and tells me my chair has come. I've been sitting at one of those folding chairs, working for hours.

Well, at least I'm happier. 

I'm also starting my own script besides re-writing  Jonathan's wife's outline and working on another script from another writer. I find the only way I can work on multiple scripts with different stories is compartamentalizing them, giving each script a good 2 hours by themselves. I don't know how other writer/story editors do it, but this works for me.

Later, Kenny the Assistant Director enters. An A.D. as they're called neither directs nor assists. Rather they are sort of the Sergeant on the front lines, their job is to push the crew and director forward as time is money. They're also the boss of the crew and can make life horrible for a director if they see him falling behind.  They have no real say in the content, that is the script and story, that's purely the territory of the director, the writer and the actors.

Kenny lays down the law with Kaplan, his script, the avalanche one, is too ambitious, there's just too much material for a 5-day shoot, it has to be cut back. I knew this and Rino did also but Kaplan did not listen and nor did the network a thousand miles away.

And the director isn't much help, I know Rance, the director, from the past and we don't get along at all, he's very quiet, the word is that one ear is deaf and refuses to take suggestions from writers, at least from me. We had a small fight a few years before when we disagreed on an episode I had written. And since I had directed my movie Ghostkeeper before Rance made a movie, we've always had a bit of a contest going on. Seeing as I know his job as well as mine makes it a bigger playing ground.

Then I get into a small disagreement with Kenny, who's feeling pressure and a deadline to start the filming but when he starts to take it out on the writers, I react instantly and tell him to worry about his end, not ours.

And yes, I have my little ego too, but it rarely surfaces when I'm working with smart people.

After these exhausting meetings, Rino and I retreat to our office and Jonathan, as always, disappears. Some of the actors drift in, usually alone. The writer's office is usually off-limits to the crew as they really wouldn't have a reason to go there.

But actors are actors and they have time on their hands if they're not filming and besides, they might get a writer to write a few more lines of dialog for them. And I've done that if they're nice people. They have it even harder than writers so I empathize.

I generally like actors and have some for friends, and even though they can act like 6-year olds, vying for attention, they're not stupid. An actor can smell if you're lying about something, especially the character they're playing.

If you're going to lie to them about a scene or character, then do it as sincerely as you can. Because if they discover you were lying, they'll get you back. And I don't blame them. Nobody likes to be lied to.

One of the difficulties of working on a show like this is the fact that it's not a good show, the scripts aren't as good as they could be and we have no real leadership from Jonathan and zero from Kaplan or Mohan. And they are constantly putting up obstacles to our ideas and solutions.

And so it's hard, for me, to encourage the actors. Some know me and others are glad that I listen to them and also that I give them good dialog. But ultimately, the show suffers from the top down in spite of good intentions from Rino and me who have to try to change as much as we can. Only to have our ideas and work rejected.

I retreat to my hotel and pass Erica who said she would like to talk with me sometime, I know this will be about her role but I am just too beat up to want to talk script or dialog or scenes. Even with the movie star goddess I knew from my teen years.

I excuse myself and she tells me she walks up the mountain every morning at dawn and expects me to be there tomorrow morning.


(Fri: Dancing with Elk and the Greeks)

Friday, July 14, 2017

H&H Part 14: Filming finally begins





After all the preparation and the rewrites and everything else, the first day of filming begins. Rino and I are stuck in the office doing rewrites of the next episodes and the hallways where crew hung around are now almost empty. While it's nice to see them gone I sort of miss the noise, kind of like a parent who's kids have left the home.

Writing, after all, is the loneliest job on a film set, you don't really work with anyone else. Right  now Rino and I are working together on Kaplan's script after the network insisted we do the rewrite rather than Kaplan.

Since we both would rather write alone, we have to compromise by having one of us at the computer and one pacing the floor. We speak out lines of dialog or action and whomever is at the computer types it out. Then we read it, re-read it and decide if it stays or needs further revision.

Now and then we take a break, I go for a walk in the hallway to talk to Karen the accountant and Rino goes out onto the little deck outside our office sliding window where he can grab a smoke.Finally we finish enough work to take a longer break and we decide to drive to the set just outside outside the town.

The crew is filming at the Ranger Station, which, 2 months ago was planned as a large office in a cabin style. What we see on the set is a small cabin barely big enough for the desk and counter the art director built. I wonder how they will put the several actors inside as well as at least 10 or more crew members and their lights and camera. It's another screw-up from the producers.

The crew is given a "starting day" cake, courtesy of Kaplan and Mahon, both of whom they dislike. I've never been on a show where there was this much dislike of the people at the top. In spite of that everyone gobbles up the cake.

Being on set for a writer is mostly pretty boring, there's really nothing for you to do. And nobody really wants you there anyway as they're all working. So we hang out at craft services, which is a table with coffee, tea, sodas, juice, cookies, chips and more fattening junk food. There's always a pleasant craft services person there who also has little to do with the working crew.

When we finally get bored enough, we go back to the office and get notes from the Litman at the network. He likes my outline for the script I will eventually write and have a few minor suggestions, all pretty easy. Then they tell us something else.

They don't like Jonathan's wife's outline which both Rino and I agree on. Nepotism is widespread in this business and in this case, Jonathan's wife, still back in the east, came with the deal of writing one script. While I've heard she was a good writer her story is fairly basic, in other words, she didn't spend a lot of time on coming up with something new or fresh. It's more of a paint-by-numbers script.

Her script features a character who's a survivalist type, the network wants a pacifist and the production company wants a Rambo-style warrior. Neither side gives up. Rino and I come up with a character who uses a gun but eventually is talked out of violence. The network likes it.

Jonathan, however, is furious. Angrier than I've ever seen him. He stands up for his wife's story and will not back off. Kaplan says he and Rino and I and the network outrule him, a rather confrontational way to handle it, but I just stay out of it. In fact, Jonathan was going to send it to the network without even consulting us at all. But this time we win.

As the day winds up for us, I usually leave before 5pm, the crew continues to work but I head for downtown and some shopping. On the way out I stop by the art department where Cooper the art director is working.

He introduces me to Carrie, his assistant and one of the two sisters on the crew. She's in her late 20's, very pleasant and hard-working, wearing hiking boots which are the standard in a mountain town and t-shirts. Her sense of humor is similar to mine so we get along from the start. She also works with Lauren, the serious sister.

Carrie has scanned her face and she and Cooper print it and enhance it with software and then she proudly gives me a copy. She's a refreshing moment since the bitter tirade that we faced with Jonathan and his wife's script.

Outside, there still is snow, but melting and in late afternoon when it's barely light, the temperature is just enough to freeze the water into small ponds on the streets.



(Wed: Kaplan vs the Assistant Director)

Monday, July 10, 2017

H&H - Part 13 - More Erica



Above is the entire town below with a road leading to it and the magnificent Rocky Mountains far off. I made the shot on a tripod just after the last light went away.
 
My first personal encounter with Erica in the bar was somewhat unexpected.   She sat next to me and leaned in to say "Ah, the Writers, the storytellers". With that she had me on her side even more. While I've had experience with aging divas, Erica seems okay, she's friendly, smart and she knows the business.

And she has new breasts.

Erica pushes up her breasts, covered by a sweater and asks if I like them. I stumble a bit, she laughs, and I manage to say "They seem fine". She answers, "they ought to, they cost enough".

Unlike those of us who try to sound tough, she has proven herself on the field of battle in this often wicked business. Then she tells us her side of the Travel Day with my actor friend Paul and the driver, her side is as funny as Paul's. She has the attention of the table as she does this and I decided to leave as I had to work early.

Erica immediately announces that I hadn't said goodbye to her and I assured her it wouldn't happen again. She laughed and leaned over to kiss me on the cheek. I stay for another beer and her stories of being a young girl in post-war Germany, peppered with some nice bad words are quite honest and revealing. 

She mentions the subject of being German in Hollywood and the occasional Nazi name-calling which surprises me. At this point the director, drunk, makes some off-color German jokes as well, making a fool of himself. 

I finally leave and see the serious sister, Lauren and talk to her, much easier than trying to talk to Marilyn, her sister, only because I stutter whenever I talk to her. Lauren confides that Kaplan screws up things for the art department and she wonders how he ever got the job. So do I


But even Lauren's presence beauty isn't enough to keep me awake and I escape to the quiet of walking back to the hotel noticing there still is snow on the ground and we need it for our first episode.

Working on a movie or series is like being at a family reunion in many ways. There are people you know, people you've heard of and people you meet for the first time. The work is intense,  sometimes 12 to 14 hours a day for some of the crew.

This intensity ends in strong bonds among the crew, very family-like in that they get along most of the time and other times want to kill each other (figuratively of course). Add to that the fact that we are on location as well, friends and family are at least a 6 hour drive and in some cases across the country.

Unlike regular workers, film people work in spurts, a month here, three months there and a lot of unemployment so the intensity of relationships ramps up to fit that short period of time of work. And the relationships are fairly spread all over the crew for the most part although there is a separation between above the line and below the line. Above is the creative end, writer, director, producer. Below the line essentially is everyone else.

And it's similar to workers and executives and, depending on the production and the producer can be a good experience or a bad one.

Writers have their own little world as well, as mentioned, we are the only ones who, for the most part, work alone. Nobody ever sees us work, they see us in the office or sometimes on the set, but mostly they don't really know how we do what we do. All they care to know is that we can make their jobs hard or easy.

I remember one show that was filming in Vancouver and I had come out to the set around 10pm and, as it is common in Vancouver, it was raining. Trucks were lined up along the street, tarps were set  up to repel the rain and the crew and actors were hustling around.

At that moment, I realized that they were all out there because I had sat in the comfort of my office and typed five simple words: 

EXT. CITY STREET - RAINING - NIGHT 

Those words took me less to do than it took you to read them. I could have written DAY or INT. or anything else. But I chose this.

And now about 50 people were cold and wet and making a movie. 

Can that be considered the power of the pen (or computer)?

You decide.


(Mon: More trouble in River City)

Friday, July 7, 2017

H&H Part 12 - The Star comes down to earth




Spring is beginning to show up in the mountains, days are a little warmer, snow is melting on the brownish lawns and the Rocky Mountain sheep graze closer to town, with little concern for photographers or tourists.

I get a ride to the office with Karen the accountant who says Kaplan is really over his head and the local producer even more so. I keep wondering how these guys got those jobs. The local producer is easy enough, he comes with local financing and for the most part he really stays out of the loop. Still he is responsible for misjudging the costs of filming in a town 6 hours away from the nearest airport and city. 

And Kaplan, whom I'm sure some of you feel sorry for by now, he's another case. He bluffed his way into this job and is making it a difficult shoot for everyone from the writers to the crews and even the accountants and eventually the actors.

As the saying goes;  he must have pictures of the company CEO in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.

No subtleties there. It can be a kill or be killed atmosphere on films and TV shows, egos are huge and when a show goes bad like this, it begins to affect the entire crew who more than often decide to rough it through which I admire greatly. I only wish I could do the same.

At the office, I learn who's going to rewrite Kaplan's script, the one he tried to rewrite 4 times.

It's Rino -- and me. Together.

And the departments are beginning to ask us for scripts. We have to shoot in less than a week and the wardrobe department, the production design department and others need a hard copy of the script to study to see what's needed.

Jonathan, the head writer isn't anywhere around, he's in his condo even though he has an empty office here down the hall from us. Jonathan should be involved but the wardrobe girl, Nancy, says I'm the only one who anyone sees. Even Rino disappears from the office from time to time. At one point, when Jonathan dropped by, someone asked me "what exactly does he do?"

Next on the schedule is the reading.

This is the one, for any of you who have followed the blog, is my least favorite place during production. It's where all the departments get together to pick apart the script to say what they don't like, can't do or won't do.

And it's also the appearance of the real star of the show. Erica enters the room with a sweeping movement, like she's floating into the crowded room. In weeks later this talent will save me and an actor from serious harm.

Erica takes over the room completely and I figure she has earned it, she's been with the big stars, been in major movies and now to be in a "B" level series has to hurt a little. But as they say, there are no small parts, just small actors.

This reading goes the way I expected and we get 32 pages of changes and considering the script is around 54 pages, that's almost half. But it's mostly small stuff, much of it words that could be changed on the set and probably will be even though we still have to write it.

I suggest we leave it to filming, we don't need to re-do 32 pages for changes like "Todd looks at her", to "Todd slowly looks towards her direction". But Kaplan insists. Mahon sits quietly playing solitaire on her computer and Jonathan just tries to act like he's the head writer. Which he is of course.

I say I will do my best. I've learned you never let them think it's easy, make them feel that their suggestions will make the script ever so better. In truth later I do the 32 page rewrites in less than an hour. But I hold off handing it in for the rest of the day. And Rino, who was supposed to help, is nowhere in sight.

I stare at Erica now and then and am taken back to being a teenager in love with a movie star, never dreaming I would be this close to her. She still looks good, in her late 50's and very energetic. I sense she is checking us out, feeling her way around the room. It seems bigger than a little TV show with her here, it seems like a movie.

Ah, they don't make stars like they used.

It's clear in the meeting that the various departments  have little patience for Kaplan and one of the grips tells me they want to use him as grizzly bear bait since the rangers told us a grizzly is in the area.

After the reading, Jonathan goes straight to the actors to congratulate them on their "wonderful" reading and how he personally is going to make sure they get "brilliant" writing from "his staff" even if he has to step in personally.

Rino and I exchange glances, it's not even funny anymore for us.

Afterwards I meet Paul Patterson, an actor who comes from Windsor, across the river from Detroit, where I grew up as  a teen. Paul came in with Erica in the production passenger van and tells me a great story about how the driver didn't know who she was, or care but had to present her with flowers and a bottle of wine at the airport.

Erica is a little apprehensive, realizing she's riding in a passenger van with two complete strangers. She keeps her wine and flowers to herself and drinks it by the time they arrive, several hours later.

Ironically enough, that story became the screenplay, Travel Day, which began this blog and which I am now trying to finance for a fall 2010 filming.

Later, at the Peak bar, I am personally introduced to Erica and she mentions she has read one of my scripts and likes it.

I wonder how often someone gets a dream that comes through. I just did.

I've come full circle.


(Fri: Camera, sound, ACTION!.)